The Love Triangle. Because we all know that love and relationships are only complicated when a potential second suitor comes along, and apart from that, it’s all rainbows and good times and everyone gets along.
Waaaait a second.
My beef with the love triangle is how overused it’s become. Now, do love triangles happen in real life? Of course they do. And do they keep fiction interesting? They certainly can. But it’s become a staple, it often seems, rather than a useful tool among many others in the writer’s toolbox. I get the impression that a lot of them are added in because that’s what people are told will sell books (or other media), rather than it being in there because it helps the story and develops naturally.
Of recent love triangle fame is, of course, the Twilight series. Which is funny since this is a triangle that isn’t a triangle. Yes, I read them, and yes, I’ve seen the movies. Yes, I think it’s awful. It’s like a train wreck, I can’t look away! Plus the unintentional hilarity is fantastic. But I digress. This now hugely famous love triangle isn’t one because at really no point does Bella ever seriously consider Jacob. Briefly in New Moon, when it looks like Edward’s gone forever, but hot damn, she literally jumps on a plane to fly halfway across the world the second she learns that’s still an option! Jacob, buddy, that should’ve been your first enormous clue that she was just not that into you.
But thanks to this series, love triangles have taken on new life as a given in YA, it feels like, becoming cliche, boring, and overused in the process.
I recently read Clarity by Kim Harrington. It was enjoyable — teen girl with psychic powers (actually, the same kind of power as Erica Reed!) tries to put her abilities to the task to help solve a murder in which her brother has become a suspect. Clare is an interesting character with potential for good storylines and growth. I particularly enjoyed that it was set on Cape Cod, where my family has owned a summer cottage my whole life, and I recognized a number of references to the kind of town, the kind of locations, and the kind of people that showed up in the story. The restaurant that everyone goes to almost constantly, for example. Called Yummy’s in the story, I immediately pictured Kream ‘n’ Kone, a popular place to go for food near our cottage, that serves seafood and other tasty fried dishes, and is a hotspot for local teen activity. As the main character, Clare, goes about the story and investigation, I pictured the houses I’m familiar with, the trees that grow on the Cape, the beaches I’ve been to hundreds of times. Perhaps because of this setting, I’d call it a good summer beach read.
Back to the topic of the day, though, Clare has two romantic interests in the story — one is the attractive new guy in town, son of the new police detective, and one is her ex-boyfriend, with whom she had a lovely relationship up until he got drunk and cheated on her months earlier. My problem with this love triangle? It took a role in the story that was as important as the murder investigation. Teen girl, supernatural powers, murder, her brother is a suspect, and…for god’s sake, girl who cares how hot either of these two are, get your head in the game! It nagged at me, personally. As I said, the book was still enjoyable, this is a personal nitpick, but it illustrates the bigger issue of how these triangles are often taking up more room than they should or need to.
Relationships are complicated — and they are all on their own! Getting two people to cooperate with one another is often difficult, even when they like each other. Often because they like each other! It’s awkward, there’s pride involved, vulnerability, the past of those two people, the baggage they each bring with them, conflicting goals and priorities. There are numerous things that get in the way of a harmonious relationship, and a third person entering the picture is only one of them. In fact, that 3rd person should only show up to highlight an issue that already exists, because that’s why the eye wanders — someone isn’t satisfied with something in the current relationship. They feel they are missing something that they can’t get from their current partner, and start looking for it elsewhere.
Now, I will give Clarity it’s due — in the relationship of Clare and her ex, things are well-developed. There’s baggage and a history there, feelings are unresolved on both ends, there are obstacles, and a distance to cover to potentially get these two back on good standing, much more to get them romantically involved again. I really liked how that was handled. There were indeed plenty of issues just between those two people.
Conversely, my friend Gina Damico’s recent first book Croak features no love triangle at all. There’s one guy, one girl, and they have obvious chemistry and leagues of problems to wage through before they can potentially get together. I loved that! There was no need to add a third party just for added drama, so there wasn’t anyone distracting from the story of these two people or from the main plot of the story, a murder mystery with huge and dire implications. (I’m still planning to review Croak on here in more depth sometime soon, but in the meantime, it’s really good and a lot of fun, and you should check it out! PS, Gina is hilarious.)
I’ve focused here on books, obviously, but love triangles are in shortage in other media. On TV, it’s often easier to play them out because there’s the benefit of time to develop the relationships in pieces here and there. Of course, if you’re Glee, you just shove them in whenever you possibly can, warranted or not. In games, they can be really interesting, because you again have the benefit of time to develop them, and if the choice is left to the player of who to go after and choose to be with, that adds an awesome aspect of story control and personal involvement in the story for the player. (I’m a big fan of player choice in games when it’s possible to add it.) In movies, it can be harder because you’re short on time, and often if there’s a triangle, it has to be the main thrust of the movie rather than an aspect of it. But hey, what are rom-coms for?